New York City Boutique Hotels: Soho, Midtown, Upper East Side

New York Hotels MFP

The lobby of the Chatwal Hotel


New York City: so much to do and see, so little time. The general idea is find a good base and sally forth but that almost misses the point. Even though Manhattan is home to 1.6 million people, the island is tiny, just 21.6 kilometers long and 3.7 kilometers wide. But it is far from homogenous and is really a series of small villages that are completely distinctive.

A cool way to explore the city is to base yourself in three interesting boutique hotels that each define their particular neighborhood for three completely different Manhattan experiences. Here is my guide to Soho staying at the Crosby Street Hotel, Midtown staying at the Chatwal, and the Upper East Side staying at The Surrey.


The Chatwal Boutique Hotel in Midtown:

Why stay here:

Midtown has the most must-see places in Manhattan. Think Times Square, Broadway and all those theaters, Fifth Avenue and all those department stores and signature boutiques, Rockefeller Center, Grand Central Station, the United Nations, and The Empire State Building.


Where to stay:

The Chatwal on West 44th Street in the heart of the Theater District, exudes Art Deco glamor befitting Broadway’s grandest times.

The hotel’s 76 rooms and suites have suede-covered walls, leather-wrapped double-closets, private bars with bespoke cocktail sets, even playing cards and backgammon sets. Bathrooms have all the mod cons including rain showers and televisions in the mirrored glass.

What to do:

Go to a show every night and on Wednesday and Saturday matinees and don’t forget to go to TKTS for discounted same-day tickets. Visit the New York Public Library and Bryant Park with its summer movies, winter ice skating and Christmas markets and then enjoy a promenade along Fifth Avenue.

Where to eat and drink:

A bespoke bar in the Chatwal lobby evokes the age of steamship travel while the second floor Bar at the Lamb’s Club offers cozy banquets and floor-to-ceiling windows from which to watch the bustle below.  The hotel’s red and gold Lambs Club, America’s first professional theater club, once the haunt of Charlie Chaplin, W.C. Fields, John Barrymore, Spencer Tracy and Fred Astaire, is now the hotel’s stylish restaurant and bar.

Midtown is not renowned for its dining but places to check out include David Chang’s Ma Peche in the Chambers Hotel, The Modern at MOMA, and Betony, a casually elegant restaurant serving modern American cuisine.

The Crosby Street Hotel in Soho

Why stay here:

This is a great way to get the measure of Manhattan’s Downtown vibe.

Crosby-Street-Hotel-72Where to stay:

The Crosby Street Hotel in Soho is chock block with bright colors and quirky art and is the darling of the creative set. There’s even a private screening room in the basement and you can join the locals at the Sunday night film club.

English designer Kit Kemp of Britain’s Firmdale Hotel Group has created an 11-story, boutique and ‘green’ hotel on the site of a former parking garage on cobble-stoned Crosby Street, a quiet enclave in the heart of Soho.

Each of the individually designed 86 rooms and suites is bursting with electric colors, stripes and patterns that somehow work to create an atmosphere of whimsy and comfort. All have floor-to-ceiling windows that let in oodles of light while the granite, oak and glass bathrooms offer every conceivable comfort. The top floor suites offer gorgeous 360-degree views of New York’s skyline. You can even bring your pet…dogs can be found on the hotel logo, in snapshots in the lifts and as papier mache sculptures in the lobby, too.

What to do:

soho's-cast-iron-buildings-72Explore SoHo, an acronym for the neighborhood South of Houston Street. Shop, dine, drink and promenade. And be sure to look up at the world’s largest collection of cast-iron buildings, which first housed grand shops and hotels, then factories and, in the 1960s, artist studios which took advantage of the light streaming in through the tall loft windows.

The New Museum, Manhattan’s only dedicated contemporary art museum, is just a few blocks away and there are dozens of private galleries in the surrounding streets. West of Broadway is more established, east of Broadway has an edgier feel.

There are also loads of cool fashion, design and homewares shops with the epicenter revolving around Prince, Spring, Broadway and West Broadway. Sadly, there a lots of day trippers from the suburbs on sunny weekends who attract street vendors selling kitsch that has little to do with Soho’s style. Best to explore on quieter weekdays or in the evenings.

Where to eat and drink:

The Crosby Street has three outdoor spaces: a main courtyard, sculpture garden and a rooftop vegie garden complete with chooks (okay you can’t eat and drink in the last one) plus the main Crosby Bar…with its long pewter bar, grey oak floors and big warehouse-style windows…which bills itself as a ‘great bar that serves great food’. Modern American dishes to be precise and they go down a treat. Plus, since this is a part of the English Firmdale group, they also offer a terrific English breakfast. And there is an art-filled guest drawing room with an honesty bar.

Outside the hotel there is so much to choose from. Just down the street is that more Parisian-than-Paris brasserie, Balthazar. And nearby there is The Dutch, a steakhouse, craft cocktail bar, seafood parlor, and casual new American bistro all rolled into one. You can also choose from great Mexican food in a restored 1950s diner at La Esquina; Public which is perfect for brunch in an airy loft space; Raoul French bistro; and Balaboosta which offers a Mediterranean-meets-Middle Eastern menu.

The Surrey Hotel on the Upper East Side

The-SurreyTom-McWilliam-72Why stay here:

This is establishment New York, which much of the city’s elite calls home. This is where you’ll find classic brownstones and grand apartment buildings, extravagant boutiques, some of the world’s finest art museums and it offers easy access to Central Park.

Where to stay:

The Surrey evokes an already-made-my-pile-elegance befitting its location. This 1920s Beaux Arts building once home to some of New York’s celebrities has recently been refurbished to become a most desirable address for visitors. The grey, white and black lobby exudes a rare combination of Old World charm juxtaposed with edgy contemporary art.

The 190 rooms and suites offer a comforting bourgeois atmosphere that combines wood cabinetry, a neutral color-scheme, sumptuous beds with padded leather headboards, working fireplaces, and spacious grey marble bathrooms.

What to do:

Guggenheim-72It is an easy walk to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Frank Lloyd’s Wright’s Guggenheim, The Whitney Museum of American Art and the Frick Collection.

Madison Avenue is just down the road where you can peruse the likes of Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman, not to mention many iconic boutiques of the world’s top designers.

Central Park is just a hop skip and a jump away.

Where to eat and drink:

Just off the Surrey’s lobby, the Coco Chanel-inspired Bar Pleiades has leather quilted walls and black and white lacquer. It is the perfect place for a Manhattan cocktail. Even better, the seasonal rooftop terrace offers a spectacular view over the neighborhood. One of the Upper East Side’s top restaurants is located right inside the Surrey. The wood-paneled, plushly upholstered Café Boulud is where you’ll enjoy breakfast each morning. But don’t stop there, sample one of its four different menus: tradition, the season, the vegetable garden or travel and you’re in for a treat from one of New York’s celebrated chefs, Daniel Boulud.

The three-story Tao Asian Temple was originally a 19th century stable for the Vanderbilt family and then a balconied movie theater. Now it is a grand Asian temple with a 16-foot Buddha and a reflecting pool full of Japanese koi that serves dishes from China, Japan and Thailand.

Just down the road is the Art Deco Bemelmans Bar at the Hotel Carlyle, named in honor of Ludwig Bemelmans, the creator of the classic Madeline children’s books, whose murals of Central Park adorn the walls.


Your say

There are many other boutique hotels that offer a wonderful introduction to their neighborhoods…I think I might start a regular column about this. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts about other terrific small New York hotels that connect visitors to their specific locales.



The Chatwal Hotel’s Bar at the Lambs Club

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Sue Gough Henly

Sue Gough Henly is award-winning travel writer and photographer whose bi-line has appeared in The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, The Guardian, The Toronto Star and all the major Australian publications. Her travel blog, Genuine Journeys, is full of insider tips on the best places for authentic experiences and luxury splurges. She is also the author of Australia’s Best Places travel app. When she doesn’t have sand between her toes or a pack on her back, she writes about food, wine and culture.

4 comments to New York City Boutique Hotels: Soho, Midtown, Upper East Side

  • Amanda @ Adventures All Around  says:

    What a great piece…. i love the idea of staying in three different parts of the city and immersing myself in each of them properly. I’ll be taking this advice on my next New York trip for sure. Thanks!

    • Sue Gough Henly  says:

      So glad you liked the story. It really does make a huge difference where you stay in New York. It is so many different cities rolled into one.

  • Mandy Rowe  says:

    Hi Sue, I posted a great photo of Central Park on the Broads Abroad FB page yesterday. It’s been getting lots of comments and likes. I’ve just remembered your excellent article on NY and will post the link on FB. Many of the women haven’t been to NY…your words may inspire them to go.

    • Sue Gough Henly  says:

      I’m so glad you liked the story. It offers an interesting way to explore New York.

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